Edward IV of England

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Edward IV
By the Grace of God, King of England
and France and Lord of Ireland.
Edward IV Plantagenet.jpg
Reign March 3, 1461–October 31, 1470
and April 11, 1471–April 9, 1483
Coronation June 28, 1461
Born April 28 1442(1442-04-28)
Died April 9 1483 (aged 40)
Buried Windsor Castle
Predecessor Henry VI
Successor Edward V
Consort Elizabeth Woodville (c. 1437–1492)
Issue Elizabeth of York (1466–1503)
Edward V (1470–c. 1483)
Richard, 1st Duke of York
(1473–c. 1483)
Arthur Plantagenet, 1st Viscount
(illeg., d. 1542)
Royal House York
Father Richard, Duke of York (1411–1460)
Mother Cecily Neville (1415–1495)

Edward IV (April 28, 1442 – April 9, 1483) was King of England from March 4, 1461, to April 9, 1483, with a break of a few months in the period 1470–1471. Edward IV's memory is most closely linked with the Wars of the Roses between the house of York, to which he belonged, and the house of Lancaster, to which Henry VI belonged. He owed his succession to the efforts of his cousin, Richard Neville, earl of Warwick, who supported him in the violent struggle for the throne against the reigning King, Henry VI. In 1461, Henry was deposed and imprisoned. Edward then spent the next several years extricating himself from Neville's influence, until Neville rebelled and imprisoned him in 1469. Edward escaped to the Netherlands, returned with help from Charles of Burgundy, and regained the throne only to face opposition from Henry's widow, Queen Margaret, this time with Warwick as her champion. Henry, released by Warwick, was king again in 1470-71, before Edward squashed this second Lancastrian uprising. He again imprisoned Henry, who was murdered while in custody May 21, 1471.

Despite spending so much time fighting against Henry and his allies, Edward did much to restore law and order to England. His motto was modus et ordo, or method and order. He was a skilled military commander and a competent administrator, who enjoyed the respect of his men. Most of those whom he gathered around himself remained loyal until his death. He financed the first English printing press under William Caxton, which produced, during his reign, the classic version of the Arthurian tale.


Accession to the Throne

Edward of York was born on April 28, 1442, at Rouen in France, the second son of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York (who had a strong genealogical claim to the throne of England) and Cecily Neville. He was the eldest of the four sons who survived to adulthood. The Duke of York's assertion of his claim to the crown, in 1460, was the key escalation of the conflict known as the Wars of the Roses. When his father was killed at the Battle of Wakefield, Edward inherited his claim.

With the support of Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick ("The Kingmaker"), Edward defeated the Lancastrians in a succession of battles. While Henry VI and his militaristic queen, Margaret of Anjou, were campaigning in the north of England, Warwick gained control of the capital and had Edward declared king in London in 1461. Edward strengthened his claim with a decisive victory at the Battle of Towton in the same year, in the course of which the Lancastrian army was virtually wiped out.


Warwick, believing that he could continue to rule through Edward, pressed him to enter into a marital alliance with a major European power. Edward then alienated Warwick by secretly marrying Elizabeth Woodville, who had a large group of relatively poor but very ambitious Lancastrian relations. Although no threat to Warwick's own power, Warwick resented the influence this group had over the King and, with the aid of Edward's disaffected younger brother George, Duke of Clarence, the Earl led an army against Edward.

The main part of the king's army (without Edward) was defeated at the Battle of Edgecote Moor, and Edward was subsequently captured at Olney. Warwick then attempted to rule in Edward's name, but the nobility, many of whom owed their preferments to the king, were restive, and with the emergence of a counter rebellion, Warwick was forced to release Edward. At this point Edward did not seek to destroy either Warwick or Clarence, instead seeking reconciliation with them.

In 1470, Warwick and Clarence rebelled again. This time they were defeated and forced to flee to France. There, they made an alliance with Margaret of Anjou, and Warwick agreed to restore Henry VI in return for French support in an invasion which took place in late 1470. This time, Edward was forced to flee when he learned Warwick's brother, John Neville, 1st Marquess of Montagu, had also switched to the Lancastrian side, making his military position untenable.


Henry VI was briefly restored to the throne in an act known as the Redemption of Henry VI, and Edward took refuge in Burgundy. The rulers of Burgundy were his brother-in-law, Charles, Duke of Burgundy, and his sister, Margaret of York. Despite the fact that Charles was initially unwilling to help Edward, the French declared war on Burgundy and so Charles decided to give his aid to Edward, and from there he raised an army to win back his kingdom.

When he returned to England with a relatively small force, he avoided capture by potentially hostile forces by stating his claim, just as Henry Bolingbroke had done seventy years earlier, that he merely desired to reclaim his dukedom. The city of York, however, closed its gates to him; but as he marched southwards he began to gather support, and Clarence (who had realized that his fortunes would be better off as brother to a king than under Henry VI) reunited with him. Edward then defeated Warwick at the Battle of Barnet and with Warwick dead, he eliminated the remaining Lancastrian resistance at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471. The Lancastrian heir, Edward of Westminster, Prince of Wales, was killed either on the battlefield or shortly afterwards, and a few days later, on the night that Edward re-entered London, Henry VI, who was being held prisoner, was murdered in order to completely remove the Lancastrian opposition.

Edward's two younger brothers, George, Duke of Clarence, and Richard, Duke of Gloucester (later King Richard III of England) were married to Isabella Neville and Anne Neville. They were both daughters of Warwick by Anne Beauchamp and rival heirs to the considerable inheritance of their still-living mother. Clarence and Gloucester were at loggerheads for much of the rest of his reign. Clarence was eventually found guilty of plotting against Edward and was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was "privately executed" (later tradition states he was drowned in a vat of Malmsey wine) on February 18, 1478.

Later reign and death

Edward did not face any further rebellions after his restoration, as the Lancastrian line had virtually been extinguished, and the only rival left was Henry Tudor, who was living in exile.

In 1475, Edward declared war on France and came to terms with the Treaty of Picquigny, which provided him with an immediate payment of 75,000 crowns and a yearly pension thereafter of 50,000 crowns. He also backed an attempt by Alexander Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany, brother of the Scottish king James III to take the Scottish throne in 1482, and despite the fact that when Gloucester invaded he was able to capture Edinburgh and James III, Albany reneged on his agreement with Edward, and Gloucester decided to withdraw from his position of strength in Edinburgh. However, Gloucester did recover Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Edward's health began to fail and he became subject to an increasing number of ailments. Edward fell fatally ill at Easter 1483, but lingered on long enough to add some codicils to his will, the most important being his naming of his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester as Protector after his death. He died on April 9, 1483, and is buried in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle. He was succeeded by his twelve-year-old son, Edward V of England.

Just which of Edward's ailments actually caused his death has never been satisfactorily resolved. He probably died of pneumonia, though it has been conjectured that he had contracted typhoid or may even have been poisoned. Some even attributed his death to a surfeit of food. What is known is that Edward had fallen victim to his own love of food, eventually becoming stout and inactive. This most probably contributed, in large part, to the ailments which plagued him, and eventually to his death at such a young age.


Edward's ancestors in three generations
Edward IV of England Father:
Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York
Paternal Grandfather:
Richard of Conisburgh, 3rd Earl of Cambridge
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Edmund of Langley, 1st Duke of York
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Isabella of Castile, Duchess of York
Paternal Grandmother:
Anne de Mortimer
Paternal Great-grandfather:
Roger Mortimer, 4th Earl of March
Paternal Great-grandmother:
Alianore de Holland
Cecily Neville
Maternal Grandfather:
Ralph de Neville, 1st Earl of Westmorland
Maternal Great-grandfather:
John Neville, 3rd Baron Neville de Raby
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Maud Percy
Maternal Grandmother:
Joan Beaufort, Countess of Westmorland
Maternal Great-grandfather:
John of Gaunt, 1st Duke of Lancaster
Maternal Great-grandmother:
Katherine Swynford


Edward IV had ten legitimate children by Elizabeth Woodville, though only seven survived him:

  • Elizabeth of York, Queen Consort of Henry VII of England (February 11, 1466–February 11 1503)
  • Mary of York (August 11, 1467–May 23, 1482)
  • Cecily of York (March 20, 1469–August 24, 1507), married first John Welles, 1st Viscount Welles and second, Thomas Kymbe
  • Edward V (November 4, 1470–c. 1483)
  • Margaret Plantagenet (Princess of York) (April 10, 1472–December 11, 1472)
  • Richard of Shrewsbury, 1st Duke of York (August 17, 1473–c. 1483)
  • Anne of York (November 2, 1475–November 23, 1511, married Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk
  • George Plantagenet, Duke of Bedford (March 1477–March 1479)
  • Catherine of York (August 14, 1479–November 15, 1527), married William Courtenay, 1st Earl of Devon
  • Bridget of York (November 10, 1480–1517), became a nun

Edward had numerous mistresses, the best known of whom is Jane Shore (whose name in actuality was Elizabeth).

He reportedly had several illegitimate children:

  • By Lady Eleanor Talbot
    • Edward de Wigmore (d. 1468). Reportedly died as an infant along with his mother.
  • By Elizabeth Lucy or Elizabeth Waite.
    • Elizabeth Plantagenet. Born c. 1464, married Sir Thomas Lumley in 1477.
    • Arthur Plantagenet, 1st Viscount Lisle (1460s/1470s–March 3, 1542).
  • By unknown mother. Recent speculations suggests them as children by Lucy or Waite.
    • Grace Plantagenet. She is known to have been present at the funeral of her stepmother Elizabeth Woodville in 1492.
    • Mary Plantagenet, married Henry Harman of Ellam, son of Thomas and Elizabeth Harman and widower of Agness.
    • A daughter said to have been the first wife of John Tuchet, 6th Baron Audley.

Perkin Warbeck, an impostor claimant to the English throne, who claimed to be Edward's son Richard of Shrewsbury, reportedly resembled Edward. There is unconfirmed speculation that Warbeck could have been another of Edward's illegitimate sons.


Edward IV's eldest son was invested with the title of Prince of Wales at the age of seven months. At the age of three, he was sent by his father to Ludlow Castle as nominal head of the Council of Wales and the Marches, a body that had originally been set up to help the future Edward II of England in his duties as Prince of Wales. The prince was accompanied to Ludlow by his mother and by his uncle, Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers, who carried out many of the administrative duties associated with the presidency of the Council. The king visited his son occasionally at Ludlow, though, as far as is known, he never ventured into Wales itself. It is clear that he intended this experience of government to prepare his son for the throne.

Although his son was quickly barred from the throne and replaced by Richard of Gloucester, Edward IV's daughter, Elizabeth of York, later became the Queen consort of Henry VII of England. (Elizabeth's son was Henry VIII of England.) The grounds for Titulus Regius, passed to justify the accession of Richard III, were that Edward had been contracted to marry another woman prior to his marriage to Elizabeth Woodville. Lady Eleanor Butler (a young widow, daughter of John Talbot, 1st Earl of Shrewsbury) and Edward were alleged to have been precontracted; both parties were dead by this time, but a clergyman (named only by Philippe de Commines as Robert Stillington, Bishop of Bath and Wells), claimed to have carried out the ceremony. The declaration was repealed shortly after Henry VII assumed the throne, because it illegimitized Elizabeth of York, who was to be his queen.

The final fate of Edward IV's legitimate sons, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, is unknown. Speculation on the subject has given rise to the "Princes in the Tower" mystery.


Evidence of Edward's illegitimacy remains subjective and disputed amongst modern historians. Despite some concerns raised by some scholars, it was, and still essentially is, generally accepted that the issue was raised as propaganda to support Richard III.

In his time, it was noted that Edward IV resembled his father little, especially in terms of his (then) exceptional height of 6 feet 4 inches when compared to the other members of the House of York, who were not well known for their height. Questions about his paternity were raised during Edward's own reign, for example by Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick in 1469, and repeated by Edward's brother, George, shortly before his execution in 1478, but with no evidence; it must be noted that in propaganda wars, such as these, many statements were used that perhaps had no basis in truth (for example, Henry VI's heir, Edward of Westminster, was purported to have been a bastard of Margaret of Anjou and the Duke of Somerset). It was suggested that the real father may have been an archer called Blaybourne.

Prior to his succession, on June 22, 1483, Richard III declared that Edward was illegitimate, and three days later, the matter was addressed by parliament. In Titulus Regius (the text of which is believed to come word-for-word from the petition presented by Henry Stafford, 2nd Duke of Buckingham to the assembly which met on June 25, 1483, to decide on the future of the monarchy), Richard III is described as "the undoubted son and heir" of Richard Plantagenet, 3rd Duke of York and "born in this land"—an oblique reference to his brother's birth at Rouen and baptism in circumstances which could have been considered questionable. Dominic Mancini says that Cecily Neville, mother of both Edward IV and Richard III, was herself the basis for the story: When she found out about Edward's marriage to Elizabeth Woodville, in 1464, "Proud Cis" flew into a rage. Mancini reported that the Duchess, in her anger, offered to declare him a bastard. However, this is not supported in contemporary sources, but is most likely reflective of contemporary opinion. According to Polydore Vergil, Duchess Cecily, "being falsely accused of adultery, complained afterwards in sundry places to right many noble men, whereof some yet live, of that great injury which her son Richard had done her." If she had indeed complained—as would befit a high-ranking lady of renowned piety, as she had been regarded—these petitions may have had some effect: The allegations were dropped and never again pursued. Richard III's claim to the throne is generally believed to be based upon his claim that Edward IV's children were illegitimate.

The matter is also raised in William Shakespeare's Richard III, in the following lines from Act 3 Scene 5:

Tell them, when that my mother went with child
Of that unsatiate Edward, noble York
My princely father then had wars in France
And, by just computation of the time,
Found that the issue was not his begot

It is to be noted, however, that many of Shakespeare's issues were for the sake of drama, including that of his perception of Richard III himself—that immortalized image of Richard as the "crook-backed monster."

In a 2004 television documentary, it was noted that, from July 14 to August 21, 1441 (the approximate time of conception for Edward, who was born in April 1442), Edward's father was on campaign at Pontoise, several days march from Rouen (where Cecily of York was based). This was taken to suggest that the Duke of York could not have been available to conceive Edward. Furthermore, the christening celebration of Edmund, Earl of Rutland, the second son of Richard and Cecily, was a lavish and expensive affair, while the christening of the couple's firstborn son, Edward, was a low key and private affair in a small chapel in Rouen. This could be interpreted as indicating that the couple had more to celebrate together at the birth of Edmund.

Several counter-arguments to this theory have been raised:

  1. The Duke could have returned to Rouen from Pontoise, or Edward could have been premature.
  2. It was Edward IV that could claim the Crown from Henry VI by right of conquest, whether he was a legitimate child or not.
  3. Edward IV could also claim senior line as Richard, Duke of York never contested his paternity. Under English common law a child born to a married woman is presumed to be her husband's unless the husband denies paternity.
  4. After Edward IV became king, Clarence was subjected to a bill of attainder—that is, stripped of his properties and inheritance rights—for committing treason against his brother, the king. This attainder also barred Clarence's children from succeeding to the throne, working corruption of blood. (Proponents of the belief that Edward was illegitimate counter this by arguing that Edward was not the rightful king and therefore an attainder enacted by him had no validity.)


An extremely capable and daring military commander, Edward destroyed the House of Lancaster in a series of spectacular military victories; never once being defeated in the field. Despite his occasional (if serious) political setbacks—usually at the hands of his great Machiavellian rival, Louis XI—Edward was a popular and very able king. Whilst he lacked foresight and was at times cursed by bad judgment, he possessed an uncanny understanding of his most useful subjects, and the vast majority of those who served him remained unwaveringly loyal until his death.

Domestically, Edward's reign saw the restoration of law and order in England (indeed, his royal motto was modus et ordo, or method and order). The latter days of Henry VI's government had been marked by a general breakdown in law and order, as well as a sizable increase in both piracy and banditry. Interestingly, Edward was also a shrewd and successful businessman and merchant, heavily investing in several corporations within the City of London. He supported the work of the first English printer, William Caxton, collected illuminated manuscripts and restored St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. One of the first books that Caxton printed was the Le Morte d'Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory, a story that was increasingly popular as English identity evolved. The "Epilogue" says that the book was completed in the "ninth year of Edward IV."[1] Edward III of England may actually have built a House of the Round Table at Windsor.[2]

Ultimately, despite his military and administrative genius, Edward's dynasty survived him by little more than two years. Edward also holds the tragic accolade of being one of the few male members of his dynasty to die of natural causes. Both Edward's father and brother were killed at the Battle of Wakefield, whilst his grandfather and another brother were executed for treason. The king's youngest brother, Richard, was famously killed in battle against Henry Tudor at Bosworth Field. The fate of Edward's two sons is unknown.

Edward IV in fiction

  • Graham-Evans, Posie. The Innocent, The Exiled, and The Beloved (released as The Uncrowned Queen, New York: Atria Books, 2006 ISBN 9780743443746) by an Australian novelist.
  • Heywood, Thomas, and Richard H. Rowland. The First and Second Parts of Edward IV. The Revels plays. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005. ISBN 9780719015663
  • Henley, Virginia The Raven and the Rose (a fictional illegitimate child of Edward IV is the main character). New York: Dell Pub., 1987. ISBN 9780440171614
  • Jarman, Rosemary Hawley. We Speak No Treason (a historical fiction novel about Richard III as Duke of Gloucester). Boston: Little, Brown, 1971. ISBN 9780965005425
  • Penman, Sharon Kay. The Sunne In Splendour (a historical fiction novel about the life of Richard III). New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1982. ISBN 9780030613685
  • Shakespeare, William Henry VI, Part 2, Henry VI, Part 3, and Richard III, in Complete Works.
  • Worth, Sandra. The Rose of York: Love & War (noted for its meticulous research by the Richard III Society). Yarnell, AZ: End Table Books, 2003. ISBN 9780975126400


  1. Patrick Talor, Le Morte d'Arthur Arthurian Legend. Retrieved November 11, 2021.
  2. Richard Barber, Edward III's Round Table History Today, 57(8) (2007): 12-18. Retrieved November 11, 2021.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Ashley, M. British Kings & Queens New York: Carroll & Graf, 2002. ISBN 0786711043
  • Cokayne, G.E. The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant. Gloucester: Alan Sutton, 2000 (original 1987). ISBN 978-0904387827
  • Hicks, M.A. Edward IV. Bloomsbury Academic, 2004. ISBN 0340760060
  • Ross, Charles, D. Edward IV. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974. ISBN 978-0520027817


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House of York
Cadet Branch of the House of Plantagenet
Born: 1442 28 April; Died: 1483 9 April
Regnal Titles

Preceded by:
Henry VI
King of England
1461 – 1483
Succeeded by: Edward V
Lord of Ireland
1461 – 1483
Peerage of England

Preceded by:
Richard Plantagenet
Duke of York
1460 – 1461
in Crown
Earl of Cambridge
1460 – 1461
Earl of March
1460 – 1461
Earl of Ulster